The playing field isn’t exactly level when measuring the greatest wide receivers of all time. Depending upon the quality of the quarterbacks they played with, whether their team was built around the passing or the running game, or the defensive talent they faced in their era, these players accomplishments can be difficult to measure against their peers when it comes to compiling a top ten list. Still, as with all great athletes in any sport the cream always rises to the top, and the best of the best seem to rise above any adversity. Here is my top ten list of the men who’ve been able to dominate the sport of football at the wide receiver position.
10 – Terrell Owens
This guy was one of the purest athletes on the planet. His pure speed and ability to get open made him a nightmare for opposing teams to defend. Sure, he had a habit of dropping balls, and his Terrell-first attitude make him a questionable asset in the locker room, but with 153 career TDs and almost 16,000 yards it is pretty tough to justify keeping him off this list.
9 – Marvin Harrison
Sure, this guy had the benefit of playing with one of the greatest guns in NFL history, but then again so did Jerry Rice, and I don’t think anyone is going to dispute his certain inclusion in this list. Great quarterbacks like Peyton Manning only put up the numbers they do because they have rock-steady options like Marvin Harrison to go to. 128 touchdowns, over 1,100 receptions, including an NFL record 143 grabs in 2002. Nuff said.
8 – Charley Taylor
Though he played in a different era, Charley Taylor’s accomplishments stand up against today’s finely tuned athletes. When he retired from the NFL in 1977 he was the all time league leader in receptions with 649, and yards with 9,110. This was despite playing his first two seasons at the running back position, and missing the bulk of two more seasons with injury.
7 – Cris Carter
Like many high profile athletes in the sport of professional football, Cris Carter had off-field issues (drug and alcohol abuse) that probably had a negative impact on his performance on the field. Yet despite the personal issues he faced he managed to compile 130 TDs, 1,101 receptions, and almost 14,000 yards. It’s scary to imagine that those numbers could have been even higher had he stayed out of trouble and kept his primary focus on football.
6 – Art Monk
This guy seems to get no respect in the sport of football. It took eight tries to finally get him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, with those opposing his inclusion citing he did not have the numbers to justify a spot. His inclusion earlier this year was well-earned, and an example for everyone that football greatness is not always about the numbers. It was not as though Monk’s career numbers were anything to sneeze at though. When Jerry Rice broke the all-time career reception record in 1995, it was Monk’s mark of 940 that he overtook. Monk also amassed almost 13,000 career yards, and a respectable 68 touchdown catches. He also owns three Superbowl rings, and that’s really the only number that truly matters in the sport.
5 – Steve Largent
The Seahawks’ greatest player ever after Brian Bosworth (just kidding), Largent was not your prototypical wide receiver. At only 5’11” and 185 pounds, with average foot speed it is hard to believe he put up the numbers he did over his career. However, he made up for his physical shortcomings with a cunningness, and a deceptiveness that confounded defenders. His 13,000 yards and 100 TDs might not quite match up to some on this list, but they are hugely impressive for a “little guy” so he deserves a spot in the top half of this list.
4 – Michael Irvin
Yet another guy with problems off the field that perhaps could have put up even greater career statistics than he did. Michael Irvin was always a controversial figure, into drugs, and allegations of assault dogging him, but coaches and teammates were willing to overlook these things for what Irvin accomplished on the field. He did not put up the career numbers of some others on this list, but his performance in big games and his three Superbowl rings make him an easy choice for fourth place on this list.
3 – Paul Warfield
When I decided to compose a list of the top ten NFL wide receivers I was faced with the challenge of finding at least a few from bygone eras. Paul Warfield’s inclusion this high on the list might raise a few eyebrows, but I think he is well deserving. When you look at Warfield’s career statistics, one accomplishment immediately jumps to the forefront: 20.1 yards per catch average. This guy consistently gave his team great field position every time his number was called. With 8,565 yards for 85 touchdowns his other numbers are solid, if unspectacular, but don’t tell the whole story. He was an 8-time Pro-bowler and a key member of the 1972 Dolphins during their magical undefeated season.
2 – Randy Moss
This guy was born to be a wide receiver. No question about it. Every physical attribute he possessed was tailor-made for the position. Long and lanky, with incredible top speed, and hands that never seem to drop a ball, Moss was arguably the most talented wide receiver ever to play the game. It is no secret that he had some issues on and off the field, but his talent easily eclipsed any negatives that came with his combative personality. This was readily apparent when New England decided to take a chance on him. Moss rewarded that faith by catching the most TD passes in a single season in NFL history. If only he’d stayed on track throughout his career he might have actually been able to surpass Jerry Rice’s NFL record for career touchdown passes. 156 TD catches is nothing to sneeze at though.
1 – Jerry Rice
There can be no debate that Jerry Rice is a no-brainer for the top spot of the top ten NFL wide receivers. With three Superbowl rings, 207 career TDs (197 receiving TDs), 1549 receptions, and 22,895 yards his numbers are simply so far above his peers they may never be broken. His list of NFL records is mind-boggling, with over 200 to his credit. The best ever at his – and arguably any – position. He was simply that good.
Featured image by Keith Allison